Prospects and Future Cornerstones

The Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league system has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last two years. At the beginning of the 2015 season, most outlets had the Brewers ranked within the bottom five to ten farm systems among the 30 major league teams. The direction of the team has since changed from making an annual half-hearted effort to “go for it” to a complete rebuild, and Doug Melvin and David Stearns have quickly traded almost an entire major league roster between the two of them.

Since July of 2015, Milwaukee has dealt 17 players with major league experience (so don’t give me any of this half-hearted rebuild stuff – that’s an incredible amount of player movement even if they keep Ryan Braun) and re-stocked the cupboard with a bevy of strong prospects. The Brewers added two highly rated draft classes on top of that under the supervision of Ray Montgomery. In fact, 19 of the Brewers top 30 prospects as rated by MLB Pipeline have been added to the system within the last 16 months, since the 2015 Draft took place. The Brewers farm system has gone from one of the worst ranked to the #1 system in baseball, according to’s Jim Callis.

Still, that doesn’t seem to be enough for many fans of our local nine. I generally listen to a lot of local sports talk during the day (yes, it’s admittedly a flaw of mine) and “The Brewers still don’t have that future ace!” is a common complaint. “There’s no middle-of-the-order bats like Braun and Fielder coming up!” is another oft-heard refrain from the callers and talking heads over the airwaves. The perception is that the Brewers are sorely lacking these two types of franchise cornerstones, so let’s dig a little deeper to see how they compare to the other teams around the league. For this exercise we’ll be using MLB Pipeline’s rankings and grades (based on the 20-80 scouting scale), mostly due to their eminently user-friendly interface.

First, we’ll take a look at the pitching prospects ranked in the top 100, including grades and potential risk:

1 Nationals Lucas Giolito 65 High Risk (had TJ)
7 Cardinals Alex Reyes 60 Control?
8 Pirates Tyler Glasnow 60 Control?
13 Padres Anderson Espinosa 55 High Risk (age)
29 Astros Francis Marte 55 Changeup?
30 Red Sox Jason Groome* 55 High Risk (age)
32 Dodgers Jose De Leon 55 Velocity?
33 Brewers Josh Hader* 55 Changeup? Control?
34 Rockies Jeff Hoffman 55 High Risk (had TJ)
35 Twins Tyler Jay* 55 College Relief
36 Marlins Braxton Garrett* 55 High Risk (age)
37 Nationals Reynaldo Lopez 55 Changeup? Control?
38 Rockies Riley Pint 55 High Risk (age), Control?
39 Rays Brent Honeywell 55 Curve? (4th pitch)
44 Reds Amir Garrett* 55 Inconsistent secondaries
46 Braves Sean Newcomb* 55 Control?
51 Brewers Luis Ortiz 55 High Risk (injury)
53 Brewers Phil Bickford 55 Changeup? Control?
55 Rangers Yohander Mendez* 55 Curve?
56 Reds Robert Stephenson 55 Control?
57 White Sox Carson Fulmer 55 Control?
60 Braves Colby Allard* 55 High Risk (age)
63 Indians Brady Aiken* 55 High Risk (Had TJ)
64 Athletics AJ Puk* 55 Control?
65 Tigers Matt Manning 55 Changeup? High Risk (age)
67 Red Sox Michael Kopech 55 Control? Suspension
68 Athletics Grant Holmes 55 Control?
69 Astros Forrest Whitley 55 High Risk (age)
70 Astros David Paulino 55 Changeup? High Risk (Had TJ)
72 Pirates Mitch Keller 55 High Risk (injury)
75 Nationals Erik Fedde 55 High Risk (Had TJ)
76 Blue Jays Sean Reid-Foley 55 Control? Curve? (4th pitch)
77 Braves Ian Anderson 55 High Risk (age)
78 Yankees Justus Sheffield* 55 Control?
81 Cardinals Luke Weaver 55 Slider? Curve?
85 Twins Stephen Gonsalves* 55 Control?
90 Braves Mike Soroka 55 High Risk (Age)
91 Dodgers Yadier Alvarez 55 Control?
95 Indians Tristan McKenzie 55 High Risk (age)
97 Cubs Dylan Cease 55 Changeup? High Risk (Had TJ)
98 Giants Tyler Beede 55 Control?
100 Rockies German Marquez 55 Control? (in zone)

If the Brewers are missing a “future ace” in their system, it’s only because just about every other team in Major League Baseball is missing one, too. According to Pipeline’s overall grades, there is one clear-cut top pitching prospect: Lucas Giolito from the Nationals. He has the highest overall grade at 65, an 80 fastball and a plus-plus curve to go along with above-average grades for his changeup and command. He’s as close to a sure thing as you’ll find in the minor leagues as far as pitchers go, and even he has the skeleton in his closet of being a Tommy John survivor (though he hasn’t had any major health concerns since his surgery in 2012).

Once you get past Giolito, there is a small second tier of Alex Reyes of the Cardinals and Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates graded at 60 overall, based mostly on their 70 and 75 fastball grades, respectively. Both pitchers have a plus curve and average change, but below-average grades (45) for control will serve as roadblocks to reaching that true “ace” level of performance and will need to be improved.

After that, there are another 39 arms graded at 55 overall to round out the rest of the top 100 prospects. You like players that are lacking an average-or-better third pitch? There’s ten of them. How about about young, high-risk arms with big potential? Also ten of them. Tommy John survivors? Six. Pitchers with all the “stuff” but need to improve their control? 18 different arms could fit that bill. There’s some crossover in the categories here, of course, but I think you get the idea. The Brewers don’t have a “surefire future ace” because beyond *maybe* Giolito, no one with that profile currently exists in the minor leagues.

What should be encouraging, however, is how many times the Brewers appear on the list of top pitchers. Only the Braves (4) have more arms that appear among the top 100 prospects than the three that Milwaukee, Colorado, Washington, and Houston each possess. Between the trio of Josh Hader, Luis Ortiz, and Phil Bickford, the Brewers have as good or better of a chance of hitting on a front-line starter as just about any other organization in the big leagues.

The prototypical “middle-of-the-order bat” is also quite a rare commodity around the minor leagues these days. When I think of the archetypal cleanup hitter, the first quality that comes to mind is plus power. As it turns out, there’s not a lot of 60 power grades within the top 100:

Rank Team Name Power Hit
5 Rockies Brendan Rogers 60 55
14 Brewers Lewis Brinson 60 55
15 Yankees Clint Frazier 60 50
16 Red Sox Rafael Devers 60 55
22 Yankees Aaron Judge 60 50
23 Cubs Eloy Jimenez 60 50
28 Mariners Kyle Lewis 60 55
40 Padres Hunter Renfroe 60 50
58 Phillies Jorge Alfaro 60 40
59 Mariners Tyler O’Neill 60 50
66 Indians Bobby Bradley 60 50
88 Padres Josh Naylor 60 50
89 Braves Kevin Maitan 60 60

According to Pipeline’s evaluators, only thirteen players in the top 100 possess the requisite power to hit in the middle of the lineup. Of course, that’s not the only quality that a Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder type of hitter boasts. A lineup needs someone in the middle of it who’ll make enough contact to fully utilize that power and drive in runs, so let’s limit the list to players with 60 power and at least a 55 hit tool, which roughly translates to the ability to consistently hit .270+:

5 Rockies Brendan Rogers 60 55
14 Brewers Lewis Brinson 60 55
16 Red Sox Rafael Devers 60 55
28 Mariners Kyle Lewis 60 55
89 Braves Kevin Maitan 60 60

That’s five players. There are only five prospects in the game right now that profile as model cleanup hitters with at least plus power and above-average hitting (and Kevin Maitan of the Braves is 16 years old and therefore obviously an extreme risk case). And wouldn’t you know it, one of those five players, Lewis Brinson, happens to play in Milwaukee’s minor league system.


Developing high school and college players into even fringe major league players is no small feat. Only about 20 percent of minor leaguers will ever get a chance to appear in the big leagues, and even then success is rare. For example, 66 percent of the nearly 19,000 all-time major league players have accrued between -1.0 and +1.0 wins above replacement.

Franchise cornerstone-type profiles are almost non-existent at the minor league level, so don’t fret if you aren’t seeing that surefire ace or the next Ryan Braun down on the farm right now. Take solace in the fact that since the Brewers have stuffed their system with so much talent, the odds are looking about as good as any organization’s that a couple of those prospects hit their 90th percentile projections and become the cornerstones of the next great Brewers’ core.

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